Aviation security is a function of national security, says Ojikutu

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Murtala Airport Lagos

Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) is an Aviation Security Consultant and Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), a think tank of the Nigerian aviation industry. Speaking to WOLE OYEBADE, he takes a critical look at current security challenges at airports, concluding that the Federal Government, the Minister of State for Aviation, and regulatory agencies must be more proactive to stave off all threats.

It’s been a while since we had at least two cases of alleged poaching of an aircraft right on the runway. Aren’t you concerned nothing concrete has been done by the oversight agencies?

I AM sure the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is doing something. The fact is that when incidences like that happen, you hold the airport authority and the airlines responsible, as operators.

But the set of people to do this is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) because the buck stops with them.

Forget about the fact that operators are involved. Aviation security is a function of national security. And who is the authority when it comes to that; the eyes and ears of the government and of the nation in aviation? It is the NCAA.

So, we should be looking at what the NCAA has done.

Anyone coming into operations – airlines and even FAAN – is mandated to submit its security programme to the NCAA for approval. In these cases of poaching, they (NCAA) can even go to the operator to find out what and what they have done on security.

If they have met the requirement, it means there is still a gap. Is the gap within their core competence?

If yes, then you ask them to fix it. Is it outside? If yes, then you go back to the drawing board of the national aviation security, review it and send the operators what is called Security Directives, stating what they should do.

When this incident happened, I met with a lot of people including FAAN. And I spoke to airlines too. I told them that whenever you have issues of baggage poaching, look inwards because it could only have been opened by someone that knows how to. It is not from outside the airport; it’s an insider’s thing.

I asked FAAN, ‘What is happening in your own area?’ Could there be people coming in from outside? Check that area. Where could they be coming from?

Through FAAN’s access gates? Through people you have given On Duty Cards (ODCs) that are working in the security unit or people who have access to the airport through other means, especially perimeter fencing that are porous?

Could there be anything like that? Check. I have always said that we don’t have security fence but perimeter fence, even up till now at our airports.

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What is the difference between a perimeter and a security fence?

The security fence must protect the operations. It falls under Annex 17 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) standard procedure. Perimeter fence is only to tell you the extent of your land; like a survey plan. What ICAO said is that if what you have is a perimeter fence, then you must enhance it to security fence.

All we need to do is enhance our perimeter fence. And if we cannot do it to ICAO standard, we should provide a secondary fence to serve as security fence. That is what the ICAO said.

One of the things you need to do to enhance it is make sure that public buildings and roads are six metres away from the perimeter fence.

How many of them have met these basic requirements? I have told them to go to the state government and inquire. All these people building around the airport, where do they get their Cs-of-O?

Who gave them and at what time did you give them the Cs-of-O? They should also know the extent of the airport land. It was when I started shouting about two or three years ago that they mounted signboards to demarcate airport territory.

Go to Akowonjo, Valley and Santos Estates and the likes, up to Shasha axis, and see. Most of those areas belong to the airport territory.

The perimeter fence is not where the land of the airport ends; it goes beyond that. This is the time for FAAN and even the ministry to rise up and claim its land. If they cannot get them back under this government, I can assure you that they will never get them back.

Besides the houses that are so close to the airport, there are some major roads that do not observe the ICAO standards as well.

An example is the Lagos Airport Road, linking Mafoluku in Oshodi to Ikeja. I have told them that the road is meant to be a service and not a public road. It is for the purpose of transporting passengers from the domestic to the international terminal. I advised them to close the tollgate, so that we can have a good airport community environment. Don’t bring the public into the airport; it will create problems like what we are having today.

That is why I said if this minister cannot address all these problem we are having, then forget it. The development of the urban area into the airport, instead of the airport expanding out is a serious challenge.

Go to Ajao Estate, it is virtually developing into Runway 18L, which is a safety problem. These are government issues that should be addressed.

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To what extent should regulators be wary of insider threat and sabotage?

That is the second issue I addressed with FAAN. I told them to find out those people they are giving ODCs, which gives access to security control areas, whether they work for FAAN or airlines. Find out how many have been given but have been disengaged and are still going about with the cards.

Indeed, what affects the airport in terms of security affects you and I. Look at the people that died on the ground at Iju during the Dana plane crash. They were not in the airport, but the Chicago Convention protects them. Has anyone or NCAA done anything about it? The first statement of the Chicago Convention is the protection of the crew, passengers and public. So, you may or may not be in the airport, but security issues affect us all. That is why we should hold the airport authority and the airlines responsible. And that is the job of the NCAA.

The other aspect is the method of recruiting people into the airport and regular background check. This is not only on FAAN staff, but everyone working in the security control area. So, don’t leave it to the operators; someone must be in charge.

According to the national aviation security programme, it is FAAN that is saddled with background checks, and they said they gave it to the police.

But what the police are doing is just security checks and not background checks. They are not the same. In background, you check things like a person’s real name, schools he or she went and so on.

That is why I tell people that intelligence is the first line of defence. If you have people that you have not done intelligence background checks on, they are most likely to be the ones that will give you problem and compromise safety.

And there are cases like that in many airports, like the one that happened between New Jersey and New York.

People that were given jobs at the airport and had not been paid were the ones that were planning to blow the pipeline between New York and New Jersey some 10 years ago. I have seen people with ODCs but without their names or passports.

When I asked, they said they are on contract and I told them, ‘You cannot put people whose proper identities you don’t have in the security control area.’ These are the issues.

Can massive investment in infrastructure solve the security challenges?

Like buying closed-circuit television cameras and other gadgets? The truth is that they can buy them. But without the right expertise and skilled people in sufficient number, to stay awake and be looking at the screen to identify things and interpret them, then the investment means nothing.

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Most of these things happen at a time the intruders know no one is watching. Some of them even go to where the cameras are and block them. We have seen it before.

Does the industry really have the capacity?

We have trained people in Rwanda. I was in Rwanda for six months. I was told there that it was actually FAAN that trained security officers in Rwanda. I invite you to go to Rwanda and see how their aviation security system works and their security fences. I have been hearing about it and I saw it live in Rwanda.

Is it the system that needs a complete overhaul or rather a selective audit of an airline as recently advocated by the Federal Government?

I agree with you and I will tell you why. It is not the government but the president that said it. What did he say? The president was very specific when he said audit Dana Air.

Ask yourself why he singled that airline out? Military men like himself and Obasanjo don’t just make statements. They do so based on the information they have.

Again, on national carrier, he did not say he would not set it up. But he asked, ‘What happened to Nigeria Airways?’ If you don’t know what killed Nigeria Airways, it is the same way the new carrier will die. That is what Buhari is asking and nobody is saying anything.

He specifically said Dana. But why? In 2012, when the crash happened, even though I’m not in the good books of Senator Stella Oduah (then Minister of Aviation) and I don’t care either, she grounded the airline and there was uproar all over the place.

I said that was the best thing to do, because if you look at the magnitude of what brought that airline down; that is the only type of aircraft in the fleet of Dana.

So, let us find out what happened and there were a lot of things that occurred. And Buhari is saying audit this airline. And I said you have to do more than audit.

Survey is bigger than audit. Audit is done every year and survey is every four years. And that is the kind of thing you do for a new airline.

They need to survey that airline, to find out the extent of damage within and the kind of damage it could still do. I have read the AIB report and it is really worrisome. So, for the president to say what he said, the minister should know.

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